village government office in China
The national government provides schools, police, road maintenance, health care, post and other basic services.

In the Cold War era, many developing world countries adopted the Soviet model. Now there is some discussion about whether they will follow the Chinese model.

Some countries have an elected parliamentary government somewhat similar to the one in Great Britain. The prime minister is the leader of the party with the most seats in Parliament. Some countries with parliamentary systems have a president and prime minister. In most cases The constitution defines the prime minister as the leader of the government. The office of president is often a largely a ceremonial position.

According to one estimate 80 percent of the people in the developed world have no official address or a title to the land they live on. Many don’t even have a legal identity. Without these utility companies will not bring running water or electricity. When disasters occur governments are not sure who many people died. Victims often can not identified or accounted for.

In ways bureaucracies are not places get work done but are rather places to display petty bureaucratic power and enrich oneself through bribes.

Parliamentary System

Most nations in the world with democratic governments have parliamentary systems with two “chambers” or “houses” that are based at least in part on the British parliamentary system. The lower house is the most powerful of the two houses, with the upper house traditionally being a rubber stamp body with the power to reject or amend legislation. The Prime Minister is the leader of the party that holds a majority of the seats in the lower house. If there is no majority a coalition government is formed, which is usually headed by the leader of the largest party in the coalition.

Within the parliamentary system the executive and the legislature are bound together through elections, procedure and law. This is different than the “federal” system in the United States in which the president and the legislature are elected separately and there are defined separation of powers between the president and the legislature.

The word parliament is derived from the French word “parliament,” meaning debate. Parliament-like forms of government existed in ancient Greece and Rome and other ancient civilizations. Some historians say the first real parliament was in Iceland. The word parliament was first used in England in 1275 to describe a council of nobles, bishops and abbots at Westminster.

Prime Minister

Thai general election in 2007
The Prime Minister is the head of the government: As is the case in Britain, the prime Minister is selected from the dominant party or coalition of parties in the legislature. Executive power is vested in the cabinet (made up of around maybe 20 ministers), which is selected by the prime minister and collectively responsible to the legislature.

The prime minister is the chief executive of the country; and the person in control of the legislature and fiscal policy. He (or she) and his cabinet manage all the government departments. He remains in power as long as his party remains in power or as long as he is supported by his party. A prime minister can be replaced if he or she resigns or is voted out by his or her party.

The Prime Minister officially becomes the Prime Minister when he is elected by a majority of the representatives in the lower house. In most cases a Prime Minister becomes Prime Minister after his party wins an election or is chosen as a new leader of a party already in power.

A prime minister is required to appear in weekly debates with opposition members in the lower house and answer question from other legislators. He is not hindered by checks and balances like those in the United States government.

Elections and Campaigns

Many parliamentary democracies have some variation of the party list system in which people vote for a political party, which fields a list of candidates. Seats are awarded based on the percentage of the popular vote a party wins. The larger the share of the vote a party receives, the more of its candidates on the list win seats.

To accommodate the large number of illiterate people ballots have symbols as well as names. Voters usually circle or make an “X” by the candidate of their choice and drop their ballot into a box. Sometimes voters’ hands are stamped with ink after they vote to prevent them from voting again.

Political campaigns often feature car caravans with banner waving followers driving from one village to the next handing out leaflets and giving megaphone speeches. There is also widespread use of vans and cars with loudspeakers that invade neighborhoods and villages and blast slogans and campaign sound bites, but mostly just repeat the names of the candidates over and over. During such elections it seems like almost every roadside rock or cliff is spray painted with the stenciled symbols of political parties.

There are often laws that restrict the use of television and radio by political candidates. If that is not the case candidates often lack the money and resources to mount aggressive media campaigns and candidates with personal fortunes or access to large amounts of money have a clear advantage.

Failed States and Stateless People

The term “failed state” is used to describe a country whose government has collapsed or barely functions. Most suffer from extreme poverty, and often experience different forms of violence. They teeter on the edge of anarchy. Existing governments are often weak or brutal. Some failed states failed after civil war, natural disaster or a brutal takeover. Others decay over time . By one estimate a billion people live in countries whose governments have collapsed or are in danger of collapse.

The Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy magazine have put together a Failed States Index which ranks countries on criteria such as economic decline, chronic emigration, uneven development, human rights violation, and deterioration of public services. In 2009, Somalia received the worst score, followed by Zimbabwe, Sudan, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Iraq and Haiti.

Failed state index

An estimated 15 million people — the equivalent of the number people in Chile or Cambodia — worldwide have been designated as “stateless,” There are many causes for statelessness: some individual some national. Some were citizens of the Soviet Union that were unable to fit into any of the new countries after its collapse. Others have been displaced by war or are members of ethnic groups or social castes not recognized as citizens by their home country. Others still live on islands being swallowed up by rising seas as the effects of global warming start to be felt. What ever the cause victims of statelessness often have difficulty carrying out a normal life: seeking medical care, getting an education, owning property, working legally, getting married or traveling because they are not officially recognized by a country.

Humanitarian Aid and Failed State Politics

Philip Gourevitch wrote in The New Yorker, “ The Crisis Caravan” by Linda Polman “is the latest addition to a groaning shelf of books from the past fifteen years that examine the humanitarian-aid industry and its discontent. Polman leans heavily on the seminal critiques advanced in Alex de Waal’s “Famine Crimes” and Michael Maren’s “The Road to Hell”; on Fiona Terry’s mixture of lament and apologia for the misuse of aid, “Condemned to Repeat”; and on David Rieff’s pessimistic meditation on humanitarian idealism, “A Bed for the Night,” All these authors are veteran aid workers, or, in Rieff’s case, a longtime humanitarian fellow-traveller. Polman carries no such baggage. She cannot be called disillusioned. In an earlier book, “We Did Nothing,” she offered a prosecutorial sketch of the pathetic record of U.N. peacekeeping missions. Then, as now, her method was less that of investigative reporting than the cumulative anecdotalism of travelogue pointed by polemic. Her style is brusque, hardboiled, with a satirist’s taste for gallows humor. Her basic stance is: J’accuse. [Source: Philip Gourevitch, The New Yorker, October 11, 2010]

Polman takes aim at everything from the mixture of world-weary cynicism and entitled self-righteousness by which aid workers insulate themselves from their surroundings to the deeper decadence of a humanitarianism that paid war taxes of anywhere from fifteen per cent of the value of the aid it delivered (in Charles Taylor’s Liberia) to eighty per cent (on the turf of some Somali warlords), or that effectively provided the logistical infrastructure for ethnic cleansing (in Bosnia). She does not spare her colleagues in the press, either, describing how reporters are exploited by aid agencies to amplify crises in ways that boost fund-raising, and to present stories of suffering without political or historical context.

Journalists too often depend on aid workers — for transportation, lodging, food, and companionship as well as information — and Polman worries that they come away with a distorted view of natives as people who merely suffer or inflict suffering, and of white humanitarians as their only hope. Most damningly, she writes: “Confronted with humanitarian disasters, journalists who usually like to present themselves as objective outsiders suddenly become the disciples of aid workers. They accept uncritically the humanitarian aid agencies — claims to neutrality, elevating the trustworthiness and expertise of aid workers above journalistic skepticism,”

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Food Aid in Rwanda

Maren and de Waal expose more thoroughly the ignoble economies that aid feeds off and creates: the competition for contracts, even for projects that everyone knows are ill-considered, the ways in which aid upends local markets for goods and services, fortifying war-makers and creating entirely new crises for their victims. Worst of all, de Waal argues, emergency aid weakens recipient governments, eroding their accountability and undermining their legitimacy. Polman works in a more populist vein. She is less patient in building her case — at times slapdash, at times flippant. But she is no less biting, and what she finds most galling about the humanitarian order is that it is accountable to no one. Moving from mess to mess, the aid workers in their white Land Cruisers manage to take credit without accepting blame, as though humanitarianism were its own alibi.

Local Government and Villages

Villages often serve as the primary political and social unit. If a house burns down or a well needs to be dug everyone pitches in to see the job gets done.

The most important social institutions in village life are the clan, the village council and headman, or chief. Villages are composed of perhaps five to 25 clans, with other members of clans sometimes living in other villages, sometimes not. Clan leaders make up the village council. Clans are ranked and the leader of the highest clan is the headman (leader of the village) and the most prominent member of the village council.

Villages — and cities, towns and communities — have traditionally been dominated by powerful families and clans. Clans are usually composed of several extended families that are related to one another and usually have a common ancestor that often provides the clan members with a family name. Social status is determined by rank of a clan and the position within the clan. Status within the clan is determined by family background and meritorious deeds performed for the clan.

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tax collectors in India
The headman is the highest moral and legal authority in the village. He supervises the welfare of the community, settles disputes, makes decisions on water allocation, education and fishing rights and sometimes advises villagers on who to vote for in government elections. But he is by no means a dictator. Before carrying out a decision he must have the endorsement of other clan leaders in the village council. Many villages have a council house, where village people (usually men) meet to discuss problems and issues facing the village.

In some societies the headman is also a shaman, healer and religious leader. In other societies healing and religious duties are taken care by someone else. Some headmen are authoritarian; others work closely with their councils; but ultimately they are the ones who have to make tough decisions and the buck stops with them. Many villages have a means of getting rid of a headman if he becomes too unpopular. There are not many examples of headwomen.

Some headmen can not be talked to directly by strangers or ordinary people, and intermediaries are used for communication. Meetings with chief usually involve preliminary greeting and small talk. When a request is made or the permission is asked for, the chief usually says no. After some socializing and some drinking he often says yes.

There is often some kind of liaison that acts as an intermediary between the village and the local and national government.

Taxes and Welfare in the Developing World

Most people live and work outside the law. They pay no or few taxes but also have no access to government benefits.

Most countries in the developing world don't have the kind of government safety net that people in the West are used with welfare payments, unemployment insurance, and medical benefits for the poor. Instead, they rely on mutual support system of family, friends and neighbors.

Taxes on cigarettes and sales taxes are major source of revenue for governments in countries where few people pay income taxes.

United Nations Peacekeepers

As of 2006, there were 93,000 troops, police and civilian personnel involved in peacekeeping duties in 18 operations around the world according to the United Nations, with 70,000 of them being military personnel.

In 2007, the U.N. suspended the use of rubber bullets and bean-bag rounds by peacekeepers after an investigation concluded that two ethnic Albanians were killed by rubber bullets fired by Romanian police officers serving with the United Nations in Kosovo.

Between 2004 and 2006, 179 U.N. peacekeepers were disciplined over sex abuse. The issue got global attention after widespread reports of sex abuse by peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo where 17,000 peacekeepers were stationed.

Military and Terrorism in the Developing World

Thai-U.S. joint anti-terrorism exercise
Developed countries are generally prohibited or restricted from selling weapons to unpopular governments, insurgencies and terrorist groups in developing countries. Weapons dealers can get around the rules by shipping the weapons through a third country. The deals are often relatively easy to work out because even legal weapons transaction are highly secretive, weapons dealers are often former military people with ties to their home government, documentation doesn't have to be made public and documents can be easily forged.

In many countries young men have to serve at least one year in the military. This service is widely regarded as rite of passage that makes men out of boys. Rural youths are often recruited to serve in the cities and city dwellers are often assigned to the countryside. Sons of parents with money or good connections often receive cushy assignments, or are exempted from the military altogether.

Many scholars, pundits and politicians have argued that the best way to fight terrorism to is to provide foreign aid for development in places where terrorists are likely to seek recruits. Osama bin Laden is admired not only in poor Muslim areas but also in just plain poor areas.

Wars in the Developing World

A study the University of British Columbia found that civil wars make up 90 percent of armed conflicts. Many are fought for economic reasons, often a battle over a resource such as oil or diamonds. Even wars that seem to be tribal, religious and ethnic on the surface are really battles over resources, with tribes, religions and ethnic groups provided convenient divisions and sides for people to fight on.

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Soldiers in the Belgium Congo
After World War II many wars were of a colonial nature: a local group fighting against the colonizer or a power struggle after the colonizer left. During the Cold War some wars were proxy wars involving the United States and the Soviet Union. Some wars were efforts to avoid alignments with the superpowers. The University of British Columbia study found armed conflicts and the number of wars has declined 40 percent since the end of the Cold War.

Most wars are in the poorest countries. According to a World Bank study the more economically well off a country is the less likely it to have war. Wars are often fought in the poorest countries because people there believe they are denied opportunities by the people in power and fighting the rulers is only way the oppressed feel they are going to be able to get anything. This seems particularly to be the case if there is a resource perceived to be worth fighting for and able to finance the fight.

The University of British Columbia study said that modern “wars are low-intensity fought with light weapons, small arms in very poor countries. They are often extremely brutal but they don’t kill that many people...We no longer have huge wars with huge armies, major engagements, heavy conventional weapons.”

See Trade

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Yomiuri Shimbun, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated January 2012

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